The head of the Independent Parliamentary Standards Authority (IPSA) communications operation has an annual salary of £85,000. I am a Communications and Research Intern for a sitting MP and earn nothing; in fact, I will be soon be faced with the choice between starvation and eviction because my MP cannot wade through the layers of bureaucracy and provide me with a wage.
Meanwhile, the plight of interns has been rightly recognised by the candidates for the Labour Leadership, as Intern Aware have received backing for their campaign for interns to be paid at least the minimum wage from all of the leadership contenders. This is not an issue that the Labour Party or the wider labour movement should ignore. Are we not supposed to stand or fall on solidarity, and does working for an MP make anybody less worthy of that support? Of course, it’s hard for me to write without sounding a little self-interested given my position however I would argue there are serious issues here around IPSA, the monster we created, and wider access to politics.
Firstly, IPSA was created as a knee-jerk response to public outrage. Bad legislation is something that can usually be repented at leisure but this body is an abomination; bloated beyond control by its own sense of moral self-importance. Iain Dale provides us with a video of Ken Osila, a member of the IPSA Board, desperately trying to justify IPSA’s inflated salaries and vast, bureaucratic, machine. Labour created this and Labour should now show the moral courage necessary to undo the harm it did.
The arguments around access to politics are well worn but I have found in my experience highly relevant. If internships are only, in practice, accessible to one social group what does this do for the representative nature of politics and the political parties? Obviously it restricts both and is inherently bad for democracy so IPSA’s moral piety is totally unjustified. Far from defending democracy, sugar and spice and all things nice, IPSA is actually choking democracy, restricting and harming it and souring our body politic.
It has yet to be explained to me why there are adequate grounds to consider internships as being different to any other form of apprenticeship. Making politics ‘less professional’ does not engender some kind of mythical purity in the system. In fact, it is making politics ‘amateur’ that actually breeds corruption, stifles meritocracy and justifies exploitation. Although people who want politics to be ‘different’ and ‘less like a normal career’ ultimately mean well they actually achieve, in practice, the exact opposite of what they intend; to make the system fairer and more transparent.
Politics is in serious danger of becoming solely the province of the rich. Something that would doubtless suit the current cabinet, socially select as it is. We have moved from one extreme to the other, from a chaotic vacuum to a bureaucratic nightmare. Labour must defend a kind of politics that is open to all and not get lost in the mood of the moment.